2006-2007: Metraco's Union-Busting Activities in Turkey

published 30-01-2013 11:45, last modified 29-04-2013 11:45
In February 2006, garment workers at the Dutch-Turkish-owned Metraco factory in Istanbul began forming a union. Metraco’s management responded with an anti-union campaign that continues unabated until the present day. Management investigated to learn who was behind the union organisation efforts, and who joined the union and then began applying a range of tactics that included intimidation, firings, and even calling in the military.

Issue

In February 2006, garment workers at the Dutch-Turkish-owned Metraco factory in Istanbul began forming a union. Metraco’s management responded with an anti-union campaign that continues unabated until the present day. Management investigated to learn who was behind the union organisation efforts, and who joined the union and then began applying a range of tactics that included intimidation, firings, and even calling in the military.

The Turkish trade union DISK-Tekstil tried for months to meet with Metraco to resolve workplace and union issues, but Metraco management remained uncooperative. Metraco finally met with union representatives in January 2007, but Metraco refused to reinstate the workers dismissed for their union organising activities. The union demanded that an independent third party oversee the negotiations to facilitate an acceptable settlement. The CCC and Fair Wear Foundation (FWF, Dutch multi-stakeholder initiative for labour standard compliance in the garment industry), MODINT (Dutch garment industry association) and several of the brands sourcing at Metraco supported this. However Metraco management refused to cooperate.

Background

Workers in Turkey are guaranteed the right join trade unions under article 51 of the Turkish constitution. The Turkish Criminal Code (article 118) also stipulates that threatening workers into not joining a union is punishable with up to two years imprisonment. Turkey has ratified ILO conventions (87, 98) on the rights to free association and collective bargaining.

Metraco produces mainly for European clients including: Helly Hansen (Norway), Guru, Gas Jeans, Replay (Italian), Jack & Jones (Denmark) and Pall Mall/Just Brands (Netherlands). The factory is Turkish (33%) and Dutch-owned (67%).

The DISK-Tekstil union was registered in 1992 and represents over 80,000 textile and garment workers. It is affiliated with the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) and the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) and the European and International Textile and Garments Federations (ETUF-TCL and ITGLWF).

Metraco’s anti-union tactics resulted in the dismissal of 18 Metraco workers and 32 union members being strong-armed into resigning from the union, under threat of dismissal.

DISK-Tekstil and several buyers made various attempts to encourage Metraco to agree to reinstatement negotiations mediated by the FWF and MODINT. However, Metraco continued to pressure its workers to resign from the union.

In late 2006, during the height of the dispute, Metraco decided to close the factory and move to another location. Given the context, this appears to be a blatant attempt to crush the union. Meanwhile, Metraco simply opened its doors at another location in Avcilar in January 2007, only 55 kilometres away. Only some 70 of the 200 employees were willing or able to make the move to the new location, with Metraco showing obvious preference for non-union employees.

Turkish workers have to sign five copies of their union membership application at a notary public and pay for this service. Workers who want to switch their union affiliation have to do so via a notary public and also pay for the service. Metraco paid 32 DISK-Tekstil members to resign their membership, paid the notary fees and even arranged transport to the notary.

DISK-Tekstil registered its members with the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection to provide them with some legal recourse when it became clear they were being intimidated. But in two months in 2006, 12 of the 14 DISK-Tekstil members named in the union registry at the ministry had been fired, followed by another six a short while later. This was a clear attempt by Metraco to suppress union membership. In November 2006, an employee was fired for telling auditors about the factory’s problems.

Metraco has called upon the Turkish military to pressure union members to resign. Metraco management has also replaced fired unionists with local fascist sympathizers to advance its anti-union positions. Metraco remains resistant to creating a safe, harmonious workplace for its workers.

In April 2006 DISK-Tekstil filed cases with the International Labour Organisation in Ankara and with various government authorities including the government's Human Rights Department and the Ministry of Labour and Social Security in relation to the union repression at Metraco.

Seventeen workers have contested their dismissals by Metraco. None of the above issues have been resolved in favour of the workers.

Action

On 3 July 2007, the CCC sought support for the dismissed Metraco workers and DISK-Tekstil representatives. It urged supporters to pressure Metraco’s owners to reinstate workers dismissed for union organising, and further urged Metraco to stop its anti-union tactics, and negotiate with the Disk-Tekstil union regarding workplace issues.

CCCs in the Netherlands, Italy, Norway and Sweden have urged the brands headquartered in their countries that source from Metraco to put pressure on their supplier. Some brands have followed up on the issues. Gaastra, Pall Mall, Bestseller, Gas Jeans, and Helly Hansen have arranged meetings with Metraco or have written letters criticising the current workplace situation. Bestseller, Gaastra and O'Neill have meanwhile withdrawn or suspended sourcing from Metraco.

The O’Neill, Gaastra, Helly Hansen, Scotch & Soda, and Pall Mall/Just brands have meanwhile attempted to coordinate their efforts via the FWF and MODINT. They ordered a MODINT investigation in November 2006 using the FWF’s complaints procedures. The audit confirmed the violations as reported by the union. Shortly thereafter, other companies such as Bestseller and Guru commissioned audits to monitor working Metraco’s working conditions and this audit made it clear that the problems cited by DISK-Tekstil are credible and require a committed response from Metraco’s chief clients.

The FWF informed its stakeholders and the five involved companies that it had concluded that Metraco was not only “acting in clear violation [of] the International Labour Standards on Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining” but has also shown an unwillingness to correct serious non-compliance issues and “come to an agreement with the trade union on the issue of the workers that have been dismissed because of their trade union membership.” Find the FWF’s final report on this case here: http://www.fairwear.org/ul/cms/fck-uploaded/documents/complaints/20072006/report-on-metraco-complaint.pdf.

The CCC welcomed these collaborative efforts but must note that the situation has yet to improve for Metraco workers. Metraco has not been sufficiently pressured into taking appropriate action on the issues. The CCC believes Metraco’s clients are responsible for pursuing a just resolution in this case.

In 2007, after Metraco management continued to refuse to negotiate with the union about reinstatement, DISK-Tekstil urged clients to withhold placing further orders at Metraco until the dispute has been satisfactorily resolved.

The CCC followed up with Metraco buyers urging them to step up their pressure and asked consumers to contact these brands to urge them to do the right thing.

The CCC has detailed the outstanding issues and union demands:

• Immediate reinstatement of all workers dismissed for union organising, plus seniority, benefits, and back wages

• Immediate recognition of DISK-Tekstil and establish negotiations to discuss workplace issues

• Stop harassment of union members

• Investigate Metraco’s alleged inappropriate practices

• Offer training for management and supervisors on labour rights.

Later in 2007, the CCC urged supporters and consumers to demand that Metraco reinstate the dismissed workers and put an immediate stop to its anti-union tactics and address arbitrary pay raises and allegations of workplace sexual harassment.

Outcome

The union has been recognised and has a voice in the factory but not all of the dismissed workers have been reinstated. The allegations regarding human resources improprieties have not been addressed. There is no indication that the demand to provide management training on labour rights has been realised. Despite the constructive cooperation of a broad range of stakeholders (Brands, industry organisations, MSIs, Unions and the CCC) and pressure from consumers, factory management has steadfastly refused to budge on many of the remaining issues.